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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has been asked to direct the federal government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take necessary steps so overseas Pakistanis may cast vote in the general elections.

It is further prayed that the court declares the amendment in Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 (Act XXXIII of 2017) vide section 3 of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022 (Act X of 2022) as unconstitutional and void ab initio.

Former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Wednesday filed a petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and cited secretaries Cabinet Division, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice, and the ECP as respondents.

Currently, the numeric strength of overseas Pakistanis is approximately nine million. Pakistani diaspora i.e. overseas Pakistanis, constitute 6th largest in the world.

The petitioner submitted that overseas Pakistanis indisputably are part and parcel of the Electoral College or electorate. However, they have been denied the right to vote in the General Elections and Local Bodies Elections in one way or the other since long.

It stated that in an attempt to bring the overseas Pakistanis into mainstream politics, efforts were being made. As back as in the year 1993, the matter was referred to the government by this august court in the Constitution Petition 26 of 1993 but nothing substantial occurred thereafter.

More recently, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter in the case of Ch Nasir Iqbal v. FOP and others, PLD 2014 SC 71, wherein the court recognised the right of the overseas Pakistanis to participate in election process in terms of Article 17 of the Constitution being dignified citizens of the country. Despite the Supreme Court order no positive effort, culminating in granting the right to vote in the general election of 2018, was seen.

He informed that the PTI government in 2021 had passed Elections (Amendment) Act, 2021, (Act LV of 2021) whereby Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 was substituted. However, with the change of government in May 2022, a blow was inflicted to the right of vote of the overseas Pakistanis when vide Section 3 of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2022 (Act X of 2022) Section 94 of the Elections Act, 2017 (Impugned Amendment) was substituted.

It said that the impugned amendment is not in consonance with the legal and constitutional scheme and requires kind and gracious indulgence of this august court.

The impugned amendment carries within itself elements of “empiric experimentation” and “trial and error methods”. However, “empiric experimentation” and “trial and error methods” are usually employed by the legislature only in matters which are economic or commercial in nature.

The impugned amendment has brought the years progress to “point zero” and to the position from where the journey to bring overseas Pakistanis in mainstream politics started. In essence, the Impugned Amendment envisages a “pilot project” through which Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) seeks to ascertain the following results: technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of voting by the Overseas Pakistanis. So, in essence, the reasons which weighed while promulgating the Impugned Amendment are technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility.

The impugned amendment is in violation of Articles 218 (3), 219, and 222 of the Constitution.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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